Debbie Allen, known for her multitude of talents, accepted The Governor’s Award at The 2021 Emmy Awards and delivered a passionate speech, taking her time to reflect on the magnitude of her career, and empower others.
As she took the stage, she quickly notified award show producers not to bother with keeping time because she was going to say all she had planned, regardless of planned limitations.
The 71-year-old actress was introduced by a video montage recapping her decades in the industry with Jada Pinkett Smith, Ellen Pompeo, Ava Duvernay, and Michael Douglas bringing her on stage. The group held canes and tapped the floor with the tips as Allen appeared in homage to her character on FAME.
“I am trembling with gratitude and grace. I’m trying not to cry and be equal to the situation because it’s been many years in the making, taking a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time. A lot of courage and creativity and faith to believe that I could keep going, and I have,” expressed the notable choreographer.
She continued, “Honey, turn that clock off. I’m paying no attention to it, turn it off. Turn it off. I have to share this honor with so many people.”
The esteemed director went on to thank the dancers, choreographers, poets, family, colleagues, various crew members, and more for their work along the way. Allen then shifted directly to the viewers, speaking to current events and encouraging women and the next generation.
“Let this moment resonate with women across the world and across this country, from Texas to Afghanistan,” said the Kennedy Center honoree. “For young people, who have no vote, who can’t even get a vaccine—they’re inheriting the world that we live in and will leave them. It’s time for you to claim your power. Claim your voice, sing your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.”
As she accepted the Governor’s Award, she became the first Black woman in The Academy’s history to receive the honor. During a September interview with Variety, Allen shared her reaction to the news.
“It took my breath away a bit,” she remarked. “To see that the value of your work stands tall says that I have to keep doing it. Time is what I’m up against. I have so much to do. It’s not a moment to rest on laurels. [This award] means I have to keep my hands on the plow, as I always say.”
Allen began her career on Broadway in the 1970s with roles in Purlie, Raisin, and West Side Story. In 1976, she made her television debut on Good Times, and in 1977, went on to star in the ABC series 3 Girls 3 and earned a role in Roots in 1979. In 1980, she played Lydia Grant in the film FAME, which expanded into a television series from 1982 to 1987 evolving her character. From there she transitioned to behind-the-camera duties as the producer and director of A Different World.
The Howard University graduate is also an acclaimed dancer and choreographer. In 2000, she founded the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to offering a comprehensive dance curriculum to students ages four and up. Professionally, she has choreographed for Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, her sister Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Gwen Verdon, Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne, Dolly Parton, Savion Glover, and more.
Throughout Allen’s extensive career, she has earned 20 Emmy nominations, winning five, won two Tony Awards and a Golden Globe. Her directing, producing, and acting credits also include work on Amistad, The Sinbad Show, The Jamie Foxx Show, Girlfriends, So You Think You Can Dance, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Empire, Insecure, Everybody Hates Chris, Stompin’ at the Savoy, Polly, That’s So Raven, Cool Women, Quantum Leap, The Fantasia Barrino Story, Grace and Frankie, and most recently, The Ms. Pat Show.
Watch the full video of Debbie Allen’s introduction and acceptance speech for the Governor’s Award during the 2021 Emmys below: